What was the Ancient Egyptian Army Like? - A guide for KS2
Updated: Jun 20
Ancient Egypt, as a culture, lasted for thousands of years. The construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza to the crown of the final Egyptian Pharaoh, Cleopatra VII, stretched over millennia. It's curious then, that during this massive amount of time, the Ancient Egyptian army changed very little. What worked for Rameses II seemed to work equally well for Tutankhamun.
Why was this? The theories of Egyptologists vary - don't they always! - but a likely explanation is that Egypt, despite residing at the gateway to the continent of Africa, is remarkably isolated. Surrounded by deserts, mountains and the ocean; Egypt has many natural defences. This led to the Ancient Egyptians battling the same foes again and again - leading to little military change being needed.
When Ancient Egypt did come up against a new invading foe, such as the Hyskos, the Greeks and later the Romans, things usually didn't go so well. The Egyptian Army proved woefully underdeveloped compared to the advanced tactics, experience and futuristic equipment that the armies of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar had at their disposal.
Oh, and by 'futuristic equipment' I don't mean that Roman Legionnaires were firing laser pistols and leaping around with jet packs on - though that would be awesome - rather the protection offered by their armour and the firepower provided by their war engines trumped anything the Egyptians could put in the field.
So, all that being said, what did the Ancient Egyptian Army look like?
Most wore no armour
'What?' You're probably thinking, 'If I was an ancient warrior, I would absolutely cover myself in armour to avoid the unwanted chopping off of my soft bits.'
Now, that's an excellent point but one rarely taken by soldiers in Ancient Egypt, as most wore nothing more than a loincloth into battle. What would they use for actual protection? Just a wooden shield called a dja. There were exceptions of course.
The rich and powerful - as well as charioteers, more on them later - would certainly have had some lovely armour. This would have been 'scale' armour (some of this armour was found in Tutankhamun's tomb). Scale armour consisted of hundreds of interlocking bronze scales - giving the wearer the appearance of a giant gleaming lizard.
Time for a Change
After being conquered by the Hyskos (an invading force from modern-day Syria) around 1650 BC, the Ancient Egyptians had to go back to the military drawing board. Their weaponry had proven vastly ineffective against the advanced gear of the Hyskos.
Egyptian spears were wooden from bottom to top, whilst the Hyskos equivalent had a bronze tip. The Egyptians had a puny 'self' bow, whilst the far more powerful Hyskos composite bow could fire further and with more force. The Hyskos wielded bronze blades, whilst the Egyptians, well, didn't. Finally the Hyskos commanded massive great big chariots into battle.
When the Egyptians finally overthrew the Hyskos and kicked them out of Egypt under the reign of Ahmose I, they did so by copying all these amazing new ideas. This was likely the biggest change that the Ancient Egyptian army ever went through. Soon the Egyptians had bronze-tipped spears, weapons with bronze blades, composite bows and - of course - lots and lots of chariots.
Charioteers of Fire
Once Ancient Egyptians started using chariots in battle, they just couldn't get enough of the two-wheeled wonder machines. It is said that Pharaoh Thuthmosis II had over one thousand chariots in his army. It's clear to see why - the Egyptian chariot was the tank of its day.
Each chariot team consisted of a rider and an archer. The rider would whip the horses and hold the reigns whilst the archer would loose arrows from his bow. Just take a moment to imagine how difficult that would be - standing on a bouncing and rickety moving platform whilst trying to aim an arrow, the archers must have had phenomenal skill just to hit anything at all!
If the archer ran out of arrows then there would be a supply of javelins to lob, plus a khopesh (a sword with a blade curved like a hook) and several battle axes for close combat.
The chariot was like a mobile weapon platform, dodging in and out of battle, flanking the enemy whilst constantly upsetting them with a nasty hail of arrows. Historian and reenactor Paul Elliott summed Egyptian chariots up brilliantly in an interview with history.com*:
“The chariots raced around the battlefield with the warrior peppering the enemy with arrow after arrow from his composite bow like an ancient machine gunner,” says Elliott. “Hanging from the chariot would be double quivers of arrows and also javelins, and the Egyptians could afford hundreds and hundreds of these mobile machine gun nests.”
If you are a teacher then you'll definitely want Imagining History to bring their 'Ancient Egypt: A Time Travel Tour' Interactive workshop to your school.
Our Award-Winning sessions combine role-play, storytelling, demonstrations and drama and performance to bring history to life for your students.
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